Big Steve Smith is just cruisin'. He's done with drywall and construction work for the week, and now it's time for some fun. The Biscayne is laid back, just idling down the boulevard not far from his Marengo, Illinois, home. The fullsize Chevy looks just like a refugee from a '60s television new-car ad. All the scene needs is a Dinah Shore Chevrolet theme song soundtrack as the Biscayne glides along on tall-sidewall blackwall tires with dog-dish hubcap steel wheels.
But something's amiss. Big Steve could pass for anybody's dad, but there's an underlying vibe that wafts out of every door seam. The ghetto-rap brat kids in the passing Honda don't get it, but a savvy street urchin driving an abused 5.0L Mustang picks up the scent. He can tell somethin's up. The Biscayne rumbles a bit more than a bone-stock 283, and those back tires look ego-size and soft, like they are intended to harvest some awesome torque. Steve pulls into the Burger King for a soda, and while he's distracted, our street urchin makes a quick pass by the interior. He sees nothing that would point to hidden quickness. There's no rollbar, no tach, no gauges; hell it doesn't even have bucket seats or a console. Now Five Liter Guy is twitchin', his every sense tells him this is no poseur, but there's little visual evidence of serious power. With the tires at rest, he sees they are 295-wide Mickey Thompson ET Street Radials. Those are gumball tires, hardly the type of rollers you'd put on a grandma car. As our boy rounds the tail end of the car, he sees it: a small decal in the middle of the back window that says FastTimes Motorworks, and the impact drives home. He's heard of those guys from Morton Grove, and he knows that name means horsepower. His suspicions are confirmed.
Big Steve comes back outside, and they exchange glances.
"This looks fast," Five-Oh guy offers."Yeah, it might be," Steve returns."Mind if I look under the hood?"Steve ponders the request and lets the guy squirm for a minute while he decides. "Sure, why not. It's Tuesday."
The expansive Rat motor valve covers are immediately apparent, yet the motor appears docile and small in the expansive engine compartment. The young guest knows better than to ask too many questions, yet his curiosity remains. There's a line plumbed to the valve cover that leads to what looks like a vacuum pump. There's also a switch plumbed to the linkage-a wide-open-throttle switch. And then his eye catches the nitrous plate under the carburetor.
"We're experimenting," Steve says."How big's the motor?" Ford guy asks."It could be a 540 or could be a 396. Depends on who's askin'.""I'm just a disinterested third party," Mustang guy says."In that case, it's a 548 with a Turbo 400 and a 3.73 gear. "How much does it weigh?" Mustang guy asks, now casually.
"Too much to be fast," Steve says as he closes the hood. He nods to Mustang guy and slips behind the wheel. The Rat fires instantaneously, and Steve slides the shifter into gear. With a touch of the throttle, the front suspension lifts perceptively, again reinforcing its quarter-mile character. Big Steve eases on the throttle and motors away. No need for an exhibition. Steve is years beyond that.
The previous scene never occurred. We made the whole thing up. But similar encounters have no doubt transpired and will probably continue to occur around this sleeper Biscayne. The truth is, this low-10-second sleeper has used its portly 4,300 pounds to plant the rear tires to embarrass more than one unsuspecting wannabe hero.
Steve's buddy Nick Scavo is more than just the fast shoe in this particular case, since it's Nick's entire drivetrain that is settled nicely between the Biscayne's framerails. The 548, Turbo 400, and beefed 12-bolt all used to reside in Nick's black '66 Impala that terrorized Fastest Street Car racing back in the early days of the movement. While the Impala was admittedly heavy, Nick knew how to make the barge work. The classic line at the time was, "It's like trying to launch a building off the starting line." With Big Steve's Biscayne, not much has changed.
"This is also the exact same engine that we took on the Hot Rod Power Tour(tm) back in 1997," Nick says, "when we drove from L.A. to Detroit." In the early Fastest Street Car racing days in Memphis, the Chicago Gang consisted of FastTimes Motorworks owners Jeff D'Agostino and Chuck Samuel, along with Nick Scavo, Big Steve Smith, and friends like Eric VanBerkum, among several others who helped crew on whatever needed fixing.
Big Steve's Biscayne is a tribute, in a small way, to those fun days. This is not a class-legal car-it's not even close to being legal. You're probably wondering how these guys get through tech. Nick doesn't exactly tell the tech guys the whole story. "When we go to the dragstrip," Nick admits "we usually only get one pass and then they invite us to go home." Running 10s, the Biscayne needs a minimum of a rollbar, a full harness setup, a reverse lockout shifter, a driveshaft loop, and a dozen or so other things that it doesn't have. But since the barge doesn't look like it would run 10s, sometimes they get away with the deception. Either way, the boys just like to go fast. Big Steve is a man of few words, and not surprisingly, his Biscayne is a reflection of its owner-subtle and unpretentious, but powerful.
What: '66 Chevrolet Biscayne
Owner: Big Steve Smith
Hometown: Marengo, Illinois, which is north of Chicago, not far from Lake Michigan.
Engine: This is Nick Scavo's 548ci Rat from his Impala, freshened by FastTimes. They started with an Elgin steel crank and forged rods, JE 9:1 pistons so the motor will run on pump gas, and added a Melling oil pump.
Heads: Nick tries to fool the unsuspecting by painting the GMPP aluminum heads orange. But no matter what color they are, the rectangle ports have seen some educated port work by Chuck Samuel, though the smallish 2.19/1.88-inch valves remain, controlled by a set of Comp Cams valvesprings and retainers.
Camshaft: Nick doesn't mind spilling the details on his Comp Cams 245/255 degrees at 0.050 hydraulic roller that pumps the lift up to 0.600 inch lift. That's right, this is a hydraulic roller cam, and Nick makes it work despite all the flak we hear about heavy lifters.
Induction: Edelbrock directs the air and fuel mixture to the ports from a basic Holley 850. Nick also likes the simplicity of the NOS plate with a 250-shot of squeeze. There's a K&N filter on top to keep the bugs out of the engine, and it all runs on 93-octane pump gas. Nick rates the power at 680 hp at 7,200 and 510 lb-ft of torque at 5,800, and that's before they hit the 250-shot of nitrous. A clue that this is a big-inch Rat is the vacuum pump and fitting assembly routed to the valve cover. That big arm swings a long stroke, and the vacuum pump helps keep windage down.
Transmission: That's a stock valvebody in the Turbo 400 trans with only a few minor tricks. The converter is an 11-inch PTC that is very streetable with only a 2,500-rpm stall speed because the big Rat makes so much torque, a higher stall is unnecessary-especially when Nick pushes the nitrous button.
Rearend: You might expect to see a Dana 60 under the rear flanks, considering the weight, but this is also the 12-bolt out of Nick's old Impala, and it has served him well. The Strange spool isn't exactly streetable, but it works OK, especially with mild 3.73 gears. The housing is fully welded with 33-spline axles and plenty of strength.
Suspension: Here, the game gets very simple. Weight distribution is important, but you won't find double-adjustable shocks or other exotic chassis components, though there is a second adjustment hole for the upper control arms to tune the instant center. There's certainly more to be gained in the chassis, but that would ruin the image!
Brakes: Steve added 12-inch front disc brakes from a '70 Impala that clear the steel, 15-inch wheels, while stock Impala drum brakes contribute enough to be useful.
Wheels/Tires: The only things worth talking about are the rear Mickey Thompson 295/65R15 Street Radials mounted on 15x8-inch steel wheels. The front tires are tall-'nuff said.
Body: Man, it doesn't get any more stock than this. The only real modifications are Steve and Nick widened the trailing edge of the inner wheelwells to clear the larger 295 tires. Once the minor sheetmetal work was completed, they repainted the area with trunk spatter paint, and only an Impala purist could tell. That's also the real battery in the trunk. The one up front is a sham, although if you connect a voltmeter to it, it will read system voltage. Sneaky, no?
Interior: Even less was done to the interior. There's no tach; Nick just shifts when he feels the engine quit pulling. With hundreds of runs on this motor, he knows when to shift.
Performance: On the day we watched the car run, it spun the tires on the starting line and ran a 10.50 pass, and Nick was disappointed. The nitrous bottle is in the back seat under a towel. To drive this beast, Nick has the steering wheel cocked slightly to the right with the tires pointed straight so he can trigger the nitrous with the horn button and keep his right hand on the shifter to manually shift the TH400.